2 September, 2019

Visual Communication for Better Project Results

Communication is a vital part of your role as a Project Manager. And if you want to be a better Project Manager, you need to learn to communicate more effectively. And nothing beats visual communication.

Communicating effectively through visuals to manage projects can have a real impact on your end results. It helps your team to:

  • focus on specific goals and objectives,
  • understand how they tie into other, larger ideas, and
  • maintain accountability

Visual communication can also help your team spot the key adjustments to make, at the right time, to keep your project on track.

So, we invited Jeilan Devanesan, from graphic design experts Venngage, to share his thoughts about how you can use Visual Communication for Better Project Results.

But What does Effective Visual Communication even Look Like?

Consider the loading wheel. You see it whenever a website is loading an image or video.

The Loading Wheel - A familiar visual communication metaphor

This visual metaphor is universal, and anyone who has used the internet understands what it means instantly. But it won’t tell us if something isn’t working. If our connection drops, or something is wrong with the web page, the wheel keeps on spinning. It’s a simple visual, but it’s not very helpful.

On the other hand, a progress bar that displays the time left to completion tells us much more.

The Progress Bar - A familiar visual communication metaphor

As a progress bar fills up and the time left decreases, we know progress is being made. If the time stays the same for a while, or increases dramatically, we know something is wrong.

You see these when something is downloading onto your phone or laptop. But they should look familiar to a Project Manager. This is how we represent progress of an activity on a Gantt Chart. It’s the same visual metaphor.

What’s helpful about the progress bar then, is that it provides the information we need to make adjustments and maintain progress.

That’s the essence of effective visual communication.

Why is Visual Communication so Important when it comes to Communicating?

Visual content grabs our attention, keeps us engaged, and helps us retain information for longer periods. This fact has everything to do with how our brains are wired.

The effectiveness of visual communication boils down to a simple fact. We process visual content very quickly. Certainly, it’s faster than reading something or having to listen to it. Here’s an article on this idea, from the world of marketing.

That’s why it’s so important to visualize your research or survey data. A clear chart or graph tells us more about data, than a text description of the trends, for example.

Today, Project Managers have an advantage. Using visual communication when we create content is simple and accessible for anyone. Online, you’ll find hundreds of:

  • Design tools
  • Customizable templates
  • Design tips

These all make it simple to create professional and impactful visuals.

Getting Started on Visualizing Projects and Goals

While managing projects and tracking progress, we want to be agile and adaptable. We need to know when something requires more attention, investigation, resources, and direction.

We also want to be helpful to our clients, sponsors, stakeholders and fellow team members. The easier it is for them to assimilate information, the more effectively they will engage with your project.

Visual Communication for Better Project Results

A Wealth of Visual Communication Ideas

Now, if you’re managing a project, you’ll need more than a progress bar. There are specific types of visual content you can create:

  1. while planning your project, and
  2. during your project to help your team stay focused

The six types of visual communication for project management content that I’ll talk about in this post are:

  1. Strategic Thinking: Road Maps
  2. Starting the Planning Process: Mind Maps
  3. The Project Planning Classic: Gantt Charts
  4. Communicating your Project’s Organization Structure: Organizational Charts
  5. Setting out Your Project Process: Flow Charts
  6. Reporting and Communicating with Stakeholders: Simple Infographics

Even without any design experience, creating these types of content is simple. Tools like Venngage let you create professional project management visuals using:

In this article, I’ll suggest some uses for each type of project management visual. And I’ll also share some best practices

Road-mapping Helps You Achieve Short and Long-term Strategic Goals

Product Roadmap Template from Venngage

The Project Manager’s role is becoming increasingly strategic. Projects implement changes in an organization. And, if we aren’t thinking about how those different changes interact, we’re not doing our jobs.

A project roadmap shows how a set of projects and initiatives co-exist and interact with one-another over time. This is rather like a product roadmap in a manufacturing business.

Road-mapping is about visually communicating several things:

  • the destination
  • how you’ll get there
  • what sequence big events happen in
  • and what things are happening at the same time

A roadmap lets you map out each project, and illustrate the goals you hope to achieve with them.

It’s important to create roadmaps for short-term and long-term goals. Because every big goal can be broken down into smaller, necessary milestones. And these also need to be broken down into specific tasks, to get done. A long-term roadmap will have high-level goals.

Clarifying the Strategic ‘Big Picture’

Long-term roadmaps help make the big picture clear for your team and your stakeholders. They help to communicate:

  • The major goals you have in mind
  • Every minor goal that you need to meet
  • How the two are connected.

An example…

Let’s say you want to increase revenue by 30% compared to the previous period. Each project to help you achieve that goal has a place in your roadmap.

This will allow stakeholders to visualize the impact of each project on the others. If a project is delayed, or executed poorly, your 30% revenue goal is immediately at risk. Your roadmap allows you to assess the options of:

  • Adjusting goals
  • Shifting your team around
  • Rescheduling projects or project phases
  • Reallocating resources or dedicating time on different things

And, with a compelling graphic visualization, your team will understand how the changes impact the over-arching goal, and the pace of current projects.

A short-term roadmap can also be useful. You can use one to cover just a quarter, or even an intensive month that requires a lot of focus and coordination. This kind of roadmap creates accountability and sets clear expectations. You can then support it with specific, weekly goals.

Mind Maps foster a Collaborative Planning Process

Business Mind Map Template from Venngage

The purpose behind mind mapping has always been to explore a core idea and all of its aspects. Mind maps are a superb tool for divergent, creative thinking, as well as for visual communication of those new ideas.

Mind Mapping for Project Definition

When it comes to project definition, they allow you to explore different project possibilities to achieve your goal.
You can start by listing different projects or project variants. Use your mind map to explore which projects are most viable, what each project requires, and how to approach it.

Mind Maps are a Collaborative Tool

Mind Maps also offer a great opportunity to get insights from team members. They will spot a wider range of different factors that can impact each project idea. You can also draw on their experiences in the past, as well as ideas they may have had before but never put forth.

Once you have an ample number of projects worth exploring, you can prioritize them. Even if you decide to tackle just one or two projects, you now have a list of other potential projects to tackle when the time is right.

Mind Mapping for Project Planning

Mind Maps really come into their own when you get to the project planning stage. A mind map is really an alternative way to represent a Work Breakdown Structure, or WBS.

The OnlinePMCourses site has an article that you may like: The Secret to creating a WBS with a Mind Map.

Gantt Charts let You Track Project Progress and Respond to Obstacles

Gantt Chart Template from Venngage

No graphic better represents the popular perception of Project Management than the Gantt Chart. Do you know who invented it? Check out this video…

Gantt charts communicate your project clearly. This includes:

  • the sequencing and durations of tasks
  • allocation of responsibilities
  • key milestones
  • progress

The idea here is to visually communicate the variety of moving parts to your stakeholders. This helps them to better understand your project as a whole.

Simplifying Complexity

Stakeholders won’t always understand the different processes involved in a project. And sometimes there will be many different components. The advantage of a Gantt Chart is that you have a supporting visual for something that you’re trying to explain.

You can use them to easily highlight different tasks, work streams within the larger project, and everything that needs to happen. This way, one graphic can encompass the entire scope of the project as you understand it. This can make it easy for your stakeholders to understand.

Gantt Charts aren’t Just Graphics

We need to recognize that a Gantt Chart can be one (or both) of two things:

  1. A simple graphical communication tool
  2. A sophisticated planning tool

In this article, we are focusing only on the former. For large projects, you will, of course, need suitable Project Planning software. This is likely to be able to visualize your plans as a Gantt Chart.

Organizational Charts Clarify Individual Roles and Responsibilities

Organizational Chart Template from Venngage

An organization chart is usually represented as an OBS: an Organizational Breakdown Structure. This allocates roles and names to each task or task group within a WBS.

For a small project, you’ll have a tight team with a mix of talent and experience to get things done. Everyone will pitch in and readily know who is who.

However, for larger projects, or with multiple projects on the go, it’s important to know who is:

  • handling what
  • supervising whom
  • overseeing which work-stream or project

Clarity and Engagement

Organizational charts, or organizational breakdown structures, can be engaging and user-friendly when you visualize them. Sharing them during a kick-off presentation makes for a neat visual. And it lets you provide the whole picture of everyone involved. It highlights team leaders and their responsibilities, but also individual team members and what they’ll focus on.

This helps with cross-team communications. Members of one squad know who to direct questions to, or with whom their own work-stream or project overlaps. It helps to put a face to new names and serves as a neat reference.

Flow Charts keep Your Team Members Informed and Independent

Flow Chart Diagram Template from Venngage

A flow chart is an ideal way to visualize project processes. It reduces the number of questions you’ll end up getting asked, saving everyone plenty of time. And it creates the framework for checklists that make processes more robust and secure.

What is a Flow Chart?

Flow charts help break down processes into their many different steps. They also show the flow of activity from one step to the next. They are, perhaps, the most familiar form of visual communication in organizational contexts. You can add more information too, such as:

  • Assigning people
  • Allocating material or equipment resources
  • Noting durations
  • Documenting quality standards

An example…

For example, if you are rebuilding and testing something, how do you provide feedback? If you’d like to run an experiment to test a hypothesis, who needs to be involved? If you have to make changes to something you created, what channels do you go through? How effectively do you communicate with your clients and other stakeholders?

A flow chart also presents an opportunity to focus on individual points, explain why they exist, and how they help the team.

Infographics Help You Share Important Information and Updates

gement Infographic Template from Venngage

Infographics are great for sharing information in a memorable and engaging way. You can use them to take mundane, project updates and make them relevant, engaging, and interesting to your audience.

As a form of visual communication, they are the most popular means of getting knowledge on the web. Peple love infographics and they are one of the most widely used types of graphic on Pinterest.

Project Reporting

Infographics are a great alternative to formal project reporting. You still communicate the same important information to your stakeholders. But, with the use of visuals, creative layouts, and vibrant colors, you create something considerably more engaging and memorable.

Project updates, achievements, milestones, and other information have a longer-lasting impact when they are conveyed visually.

Communicating Complex Ideas

Also look for ways to use infographics when you need to communicate something new and complex to your team or your stakeholders.

For example, you may need to standardize existing processes or introduce new ones. Here, process infographics are a helpful resource to provide the team with.

It’s fun to get creative with your infographic design but be mindful of this pro-tip. Stick with 2-3 fonts that are clear and easy to read. Use minimal text, and lots of negative space (designer-speak for empty or blank space – ed) to avoid crowding.

Visual Communication as a Sign of Strong Leadership

Communicating visually is one way to demonstrate your clarity of mind when tackling big projects.
It’s a key part of your leadership role to help your team and your stakeholders:

  • Understand the bigger picture
  • Stay on track
  • Keep them accountable
  • Stay on top of new developments.

Dr Mike Clayton, Founder of OnlinePMCourses, tells us:

‘Project Management is 80 percent communication’

Leaders who can’t communicate issues, goals, or progress in a clear and simple way, won’t get the best out of their team.
On a superficial level, professional-looking visual content will impress your team members, your clients, and stakeholders. But more important, it helps them understand things almost instantly. This means they can get your message across quickly and accurately.

And, luckily, you don’t need to be a designer to create engaging visual content today. With all the resources available online, it’s just a matter of taking the time and making an effort. You have no excuse. Start using visual content to improve your communication as a project leader.

What are Your Thoughts about Visual Communication?

We’d love to read your comments below on how you use visual communicatoion on your project. And please do visit the Venngage website to see if their tools could be of use to you.

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Jeilan Devanesan

About the Author...

Jeilan Devanesan is a copywriter at Venngage, the online graphic-design tool. He researches and writes on how to design creative content, engaging your audience with visuals, and design trends. He has written for CMI, Outbrain, Clutch, Classy and other publications.
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